Sunday, April 27, 2014

Australia Recon

We have taken a slight detour before returning to the boat. We had originally planned to sail to Australia this season, but it was a busy year back home, so we're not ready to push on that far. However, we decided that we would at least come have a look, and visit a few family and friends while we're at it. Thanks to Corvallis friends Steve and Stef, we had a warm welcome upon arrival in Brisbane. Bart and Jenni picked us up and took us home to their "Rabbit Hole," a tidy apartment attached to the large home they formerly occupied while they were raising their kids. These generous souls also loaned us a very nice Jeep for our 2-week wander through southern Queensland. During our two days in Brisbane, we enjoyed our first taste of Australian wildlife. These rainbow lorikeets were in the neighbor's backyard. Our first stop was a few hours south on the Gold Coast, where we visited Nick and Saeko. We've known Nick's parents since before he was born, and it is great to see him as a successful young man with a beautiful wife and a nice home. Next up, we spent 5 days visiting Mark's niece and her family in Byron Bay, just across the border in northern New South Wales. It was Easter weekend, and this wildly popular resort was bursting at the seams with beachgoers and a hundred thousand Blues Festival attendees. This was the first of many spectacular beaches we were to see. My niece took us on numerous outings to nearby towns, lakes, pubs, and the local farmer's market. We visited a few marinas in the area, including this nice one in Yamba. From what we have seen, dry storage runs about $700/month, a slip will cost us no less than that, and a mooring runs about $300/month and up. Luckily, there are thousands of places where you can anchor for free. A good place to cruise, but not a good place to leave the boat, as has been our habit for the past several years. I also did my first freefall skydive in Byron (I had done a static-line jump many years ago), along with my niece and a few of her friends. This was a great place for the experience, with warm temperatures and terrific scenery. From Byron, we returned north into Queensland, stopping at the Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary, then heading past Brisbane into the Glasshouse Mountains, where we did a short climb up Mount Ngungun. We continued north the next day, following quiet country roads, and stopping for a half-day hike along Booloumba Creek in Conondale National Park. Our northernmost point was the Bundaberg Port Marina and the mouth of the Burnett River, our likely landfall should we manage to sail here next year. We had a nice chat with Bill and Sue on Dilligaf, a boat we recognized from several years ago in Mexico. Our trip nearly over, we headed south again, stopping for another walk through a forest of old-growth gum trees. Thanks to Toni, a good friend of Bart and Jenni, we had a lovely stay in the posh beach resort of Noosa Heads. While the beach here is wonderful for swimming and surfing, the real attraction for us was the nearby National Park, with a forest full of birdsong and trees that were new and strange. While our return to Australia is uncertain, this brief trip has given us a much better idea of what to expect: exceptionally friendly people, some of the world's most beautiful coastline, endless hiking trails through lush forest, and unfortunately, prices that are considerably higher than most of the places we have visited!